“Take away this pudding! It has no theme,” Winston Churchill is said to have exclaimed when confronted with an undistinguished dessert. The Middle East today resembles one of those puddings, but Uncle Sam may not send it back. A themeless pudding is better than a poisoned one.
It is hard to overstate how much the Middle East has changed in the past five years. The great themes and grand narratives that shaped the region in the 20th century have largely disappeared. This wasn’t a Fukuyaman “end of history,” in which one ideology absorbs or defeats all rivals. All the ideologies competing to shape the region have failed.
The U.S. hope that the region would reshape itself into a collection of peaceful democracies collapsed with the failures of the Arab Spring. There are still liberals in the Arab world, and some of them are secular, but nobody thinks they will drive policy for the foreseeable future.